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Kansas lawmakers look to increase penalties for harming police dogs

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators are moving to impose tougher prison sentences for harming or killing police dogs, and the measure has bipartisan support despite questions elsewhere over how the animals are used in law enforcement.

The state House expected to take a final vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow judges to sentence first-time offenders to five years in prison for killing a police, arson, game warden or search and rescue dog, or a police horse, and mandate a fine of at least $10,000. Killing the dogs already is a felony in Kansas, but the maximum prison sentence is one year; the maximum fine is $5,000, and the law does not specifically cover horses.

Approval by the Republican-controlled House would send the measure to the GOP-led Senate. When the House took a preliminary voice vote Tuesday after a short debate, only a few members voted no.

The measure is a response to the death in November of Bane, an 8-year-old dog used by the Sedgwick County sheriff in Wichita, the state’s largest city. Authorities say a suspect in a domestic violence case took refuge in a storm drain and strangled Bane when a deputy sent the dog in to flush out the suspect.

“These animals are not only tools. They are considered family,” said Rep. Adam Turk, a Kansas City-area Republican. “These animals are of great import to the protection and security of our citizens.”

The bill is sponsored by two prominent Republicans, House Speaker Dan Hawkins and Rep. Stephen Owens, chair of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. But it also has the backing of Rep. John Carmichael, the committee’s top Democrat. Hawkins and Carmichael are from Wichita.

The federal government and some states already allow longer prison sentences than Kansas. Under a 2000 federal law, a person who kills a police dog can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. In 2019, the possible penalty in Florida increased from up to five years in prison to up to 15 years. Tennessee increased its penalties in 2022, and Kentucky did so last year.

But injuries caused by police dogs also have made headlines.

In rural Ohio in July 2023, a police dog bit a Black truck driver severely enough that he needed hospital treatment after the man was on his knees with his hands in the air.

The Salt Lake City police department suspended its dog apprehension program in 2020 after a Black man was bitten and an audit found 27 dog bite cases during the previous two years. And the same year, a Black man in Lafayette, Indiana, was placed in a medically induced coma after police dogs mauled him as he was arrested in a battery case.

During Tuesday’s debate in the Kansas House, Democratic Rep. Ford Carr, of Wichita, one of six Black members, mentioned the Ohio case and recalled how during the Civil Rights Movement, authorities turned dogs on peaceful Black protesters.

Carr also suggested the Wichita suspect was defending himself.

“I don’t think that there’s any one of us here who would sit idly by and let an animal maul you without fighting back,” Carr said.

Carmichael, who is white, acknowledged the fraught history surrounding police dogs, but he urged Carr to review testimony during the House committee’s hearing on the bill earlier this month. Four law enforcement officers backed the measure, and no one spoke against it.

Bane’s handler, Sedgwick County Deputy Tyler Brooks, told the committee that Bane became important to his family.

“It’s kind of funny to me that this very large dog who frequently broke things and knocked everything over during a training session would be the one that would be the one that would break my 7-year-old autistic son of his crippling fear of dogs,” Brooks told the committee.

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